We have a very varied group of feature articles in this issue, and they cover some serious and fascinating topics: the creation and management of the memorial and museum honoring the victims and telling the story of the terrorist attacks of 9/11; a pair of alumni who served on presidential commissions weighing the critical issues of national security and voting reform; and the work of a Dental School professor that could revolutionize the way crucial vaccines and other drugs are manufactured and distributed.
As we put this issue together, though, I confess that as much as anything I was struck by the amount about music—the joy and challenge of making it, the camaraderie of putting on a show—that appears in these pages. The subject crops up in every section, from “Essays” to “Alumni Profiles.”
First, of course, there is our cover story, “Still Kicking,” by Dave Zeitlin C’03, which celebrates the 125th anniversary of Mask & Wig, Penn’s all-singing, all-dancing, still all-male musical comedy troupe. Through interviews with Wiggers ranging from the World War II-era to current students, Dave’s piece richly evokes the club’s history, from the days when they toured in their own private train and made multiple appearances on national TV, up to the present era of buses, planes, and YouTube.
(Dave’s prose is wonderfully complemented by the photography of Chris Crisman C’03, who shot the cast of the 126th production, Wishful Sinking, as well as some of the more senior members in the midst of revels at the historic Mask & Wig clubhouse on Quince Street.)
In “Alumni Voices,” the writer and editor Dan Rottenberg C’64 reflects on the meaning of another venerable campus performing group, the Penn Band (founded 1897), on his and, in particular, his father’s lives.
The elder Rottenberg—Herman C’36—may have sacrificed a (perhaps not-very-promising) medical career when he opted to join the band for a gig the morning of his medical-school aptitude test, and he remained devoted to it throughout his long life. Even in his nineties, he could still be relied upon to rouse himself for a march around the apartment when his son played the Penn Band CD he once bought on Locust Walk. “It may be the best $10 I ever spent, “ Dan says.
Next, in “Gazetteer,” Molly Petrilla C’06 writes about Penn’s first co-ed a cappella group, Counterparts (a relative newcomer, founded 1981), competing in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella.
Counterparts had not been involved in the ICCA since 2005, and the members only reluctantly agreed to enter at the urging of their president. To their surprise, they made it past the quarterfinals and were invited to compete in the semis at a sold-out show at Rutgers University. Their sort-of-Cinderella story ended there, but it sounds like everyone had a good time.
Rounding out the group, in “Arts,” Karen Rile C’80 showcases the blossoming career of composer Joseph Hallman LPS’13, who was raised by a disabled single mother far from the often-privileged world of classical music. Hallman was nominated for a Grammy Award this year in the “Surround Sound” category, and his compositions have been performed by leading concert artists, including members of the Philadelphia Orchestra (some of whom also played for him when he was 13—see the story for the details). And Tony Peebles C’03 plays sax in a band that did win a Grammy this year.
Finally, in “Alumni Profiles,” Caren Lissner C’93 writes about author and producer Vivek Tiwary C’96 W’96, who recently published a graphic novel on “fifth Beatle” Brian Epstein (now being turned into a movie) and has produced several plays and musicals on Broadway. He told Caren he’s guided by what he learned at Penn: “Follow your dreams, but do it in a respectable, professional way.”
Which sounds a little like Mask & Wig’s credo: “Justice to the stage and credit to the University.”